Friday, March 13, 2009

Ethical Foods Memo: Does (Egg) Size Matter? Size of Eggs Emerging as Hen Welfare, Taste Issue in United Kingdom

If laying larger eggs is painful for a chicken, imagine what it must be like for an Ostrich, an Emu and a Pheasant. Pictured above, left -to- right: An Ostrich egg (far left), a Emu egg, a Pheasant egg, and (far right) a chicken egg (large grade). [Click on the photograph to enlarge.]

In the United Kingdom, when it comes to eggs, most consumers like them larger rather than smaller. For example, while in the U.S. large grade eggs (with medium grade not far behind) are the number one seller in retail stores (as well as the most promoted by grocers), extra large and even jumbo hold that honor in UK supermarkets.

The upscale Waitrose supermarket chain even sells Ostrich eggs, which make a jumbo grade egg from a chicken look tiny. [Read our May 1, 2008 piece here: Local Foods Memo: Never A Grocer to Have its Head in the Sand, Waitrose is Selling Locally-Produced Ostrich Eggs at its UK Supermarkets.]

But like all things involving food, and eggs particularly seem to generate lots of debate -- the back and forth good for you, bad for you debate, for example -- the latest egg controversy, this time in the UK where "egg size truly matters," has to do with whether or not larger eggs are bad.

Specifically, some "eggs-perts" in the UK are now sounding the alarm, saying all the fuss about the desirability of larger eggs in the UK is...well, "egg-cessive."

These folks argue that not only is it painful for chickens to lay larger eggs, but that smaller eggs actually taste better than the larger cousins.

This arguments isn't new all together, at least in the case of other foods. For example, chefs tell us that smaller fish generally taste better than larger versions of the same family or variety. And, generally speaking, most smaller-sized version of vegetables (like Italian Squash, for example) tend to taste better than there large or jumbo relatives.

But this is the first time we've heard the "smaller tastes better" argument applied to the humble and wonderful egg.

The "does egg-size matter" debate took to the pages of one of Britain's leading newspapers, the Daily Mail," yesterday in a piece by staff writer Marcus Dunk titled: "Egg-cessive? Large eggs are painful for hens to lay, claim experts. What's more they're less tasty. So should we stop shelling out for them?

Large egg cruelty: In the Daily Mail story, Tom Vesey, chairman of the British Free Range Producers' Association, claimed: "It can be painful to the hen to lay a large egg … it would be kinder to eat smaller eggs," he is quoted as saying.

The Daily Mail piece also attributed to Mr. Vesey this: "He also said medium-sized eggs 'taste better'. So in a world that is constantly downsizing, is it time that we embraced the smaller-sized egg"?

Backed up by some science: The story also quotes a scientist in the piece. "Christine Nicol, professor of Animal Welfare at Bristol University, agrees. 'There is no strong published evidence of pain in egg-laying hens but it's not unreasonable to think there may be a mismatch in the size of the birds and the eggs they produce.'"

"We do often spot bloodstains on large eggs. I would never buy jumbo eggs."

The "does egg-size matter" debate appears to have begun in the UK in full force. Will it soon travel across the pond to America? We predict PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) will soon get involved in the "egg size" issue, focusing on the hen welfare aspects. Remember we predicted it first.

Click here to read the story, "Egg-cessive? Large eggs are painful for hens to lay, claim experts. What's more they're less tasty. So should we stop shelling out for them"? in the Daily Mail. [There's a companion story from the Daily Mail here: "Lay off large eggs: Shoppers warned big varieties cause pain and stress to hens."]

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